Friday, July 26, 2019

Fantasia 2019.11: Cencoroll Connect, Boxer's Omen, Purity of Vengeance, Dance with Me, and Satanic Panic

Not a whole lot of guests in the movies I went to on Sunday, but as the halfway mark, it's another good chance to do some counting: 35 features, 26 shorts, 9 attached and 17 as part of two programs. That actually gets my feature pace down a bit, to 70 features, but that's probably just reasonable rather than the stupidly busy pace I often set.

Writer/director Shinobu Yaguchi was on-hand for Dance with Me, which is pretty darn charming, although, as a musical celebrating musicals while also commenting on their goofiness, I feel like it could have gone a bit further. He a good-sized build-up, as some of his previous films had been big hits at the festival in previous years, but I think the only one I've actually seen was Happy Flight, which was one of the odder screenings I went to, as the airline featured in the film rented out the Coolidge, showed the movie for free, and pitched their product, which was not really what I'd been expecting.

It was a fun screening, though, both for how he opened up with a statement that described his film as "... like I think you say in English, 'batshit crazy'" and for how some of the questioning showed how narrow and skewed our fandom can render our view of pop culture. One of the songs had apparently been used in an anime, and the questioner wanted to know what sort of influence that was, and Mr. Yaguchi just had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, as these were all pop songs from the 1970s and early 1980s. The anime was probably trying to tap into the same vein of nostalgia, but Yaguchi's experience of Japanese pop culture is obviously very different from the twentysomething who attends this festival

So, that was Sunday. It's now Friday, and I'll be hitting Night God, Human Lost, and Koko-di Koko-da, maybe with Jessica Forever in there, but it's much less tight on Tuesday, and based on the amount of caffeine I've already had to down to get through the morning, I'm guessing I won't be up for Decoder at midnight. Tone-Deaf is a bunch of fun

Cencoroll Connect ("Cencoroll" & "Cencoroll 2")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, digital)

There's a shift in the animation style somewhere in the middle of this film, but that's natural; there's ten years between the releases of "Cencoroll" and "Cencoroll 2", and you can't help but see the spot where they are fused into a short feature. The thing is, it becomes a bit more of a different sort of amine at that point, introducing more characters who have clear purpose and sense of urgency, piling more action on, losing a bit of what made the opening feel unique even if it isn't necessarily anything completely new.

The fun of that first act was the apparent reluctance to be a sci-fi action amine; hero Tetsu may be bonded to a giant shapeshifting creature, but he doesn't really have any interest in fighting others, or satisfying some girl's curiosity, or investigating where the likes of Cenco come from. Even villain Shuu seems to be more or less attacking because it's as good a time as any, and the fights have a sort of slow ramp-up until they're suddenly quite lethal. It's a good fit for the muted color scheme and simple, amorphous designs, an impressive bit of work in creating a certain sort of mood and not overloading the audience.

There's still a lot of that going on in the second half, but now there's a secret agency, titanic "kites", connections between characters, and more action. It's not a bad example of this sort of amine, even if it's no longer quite the slacker version of it, but the brighter, more solid colors jar a bit and the action becomes a bit much. It almost seems to be holding a moment, extending the transition between the seemingly simple, laid-back "Cencoroll" started as and the blockbuster that the entire saga will become a little too long, and never fully arriving at that final destination; even the tease during the credits just suggests a bit more rather than a big, climactic shift. Maybe it will all fit together when and if the filmmakers can do part 3.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Mo (The Boxer's Omen)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Retro, 35mm)

I think I've seen this whacko bit of Hong Kong horror before, but probably as part of a late show where it couldn't fully lodge in my head. Which is kind of incredible, because this thing is the sort of insane that one would seemingly not forget.

It is, after all, full of weird sequences that leave the viewers' mouths open in pure shock (or covered to keep from puking), and on top of that, seem like they're just not going to end. A thing where the vengeance-seeking students set about creating some sort of female martial-arts golem involves just an immense amount of crocodile guts even before they start shoving gross things in their mouths, masticating it, and then spitting it out so that the next guy can add some ingredients and do the same, and it just goes on and on and on, like the filmmakers knew it needed to drag it out forever for at least one person in the audience to hurl sympathetically. And that's at least got a sort of pure authenticity to it, compared to the other stretches of mystic battles where Shaw Brothers surely spent dozens of dollars on effects.

That's all kind of fun, for certain definitions of fun, but it can be a little frustrating to see just how little the filmmakers care about anything else, from the bits of sport and triad stories glued into the start to get things going to how explanations and transitions are mere obligations to be wedged in as necessary. It's not really a good movie even though it is able to draw a visceral reaction, but by the time is over, there's no denying that it has done that and (in this case) done so in the middle of a festival of movies that have had 35 years to figure out how to do it better. I am, at the very least, reasonably sure I will not forget whether or not I've seen it again.

Review from 2014

Journal 64 (aka The Purity of Vengeance)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

"Department Q" has, as a series, reached the point where it's got to deal with characters staying in the same place rather than having some sort of shift in their job or life - and where a character is compelled to mention that they really didn't have this many perverse cold cases before the department existed. It's not quite a breaking point, but it's a spot where I suspect everyone involved is thinking about how to avoid inertia even if not much actually gets reconfigured.

And it does okay. This case touches on an uglier bit of Danish history that can't be entirely consigned to the past (don't they all), and the filmmakers do a nice job of rolling it around, letting the audience struggle with how the pieces never seem to fit until the brilliant but temperamental detective sees the twist that's obvious in retrospect. This time around, the more personal narrative revolves around Carl's partner Assad (a first-billed Fares Fares), who is given a rare chance to move up while confronting the issues with being an Arab in Copenhagen more directly. It's nicely and sympathetically laid out (down to the way emphasis is placed in the phrase "non-ethnic Danes" to make it sound reluctant and avoid positioning Assad and his friends as outsiders), and seems more genuinely repulsed by the violence against women inherent in its story than usual.

It is, as with the others, a quality production, knowing how to squeeze every cent out of its budget without being too slick all over or slacking on the seedy and cramped corners. The snowy background of the present stays constant even as the flashbacks track the seasons, plunging young Nete from a hopeful summer to the darkest winter.

I must admit, I kept forgetting why I had this movie circled on my schedule before checking and realizing that it was the new Department Q movie, which is how it goes with this series, I guess. It's almost always worth diving in, but I won't exactly be eagerly anticipating the next until it's in front of me.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Dance With Me

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

The thing that mostly makes Dance With Me work is the thing that basically goes the game away; there are large chunks that the audience will not believe unless, at some point, the movie's heroine learned how to do all the singing and dancing, even if the trail of destruction she leaves as the result of her compulsion to make any song she hears into a musical number suggests that maybe she didn't, and once you've put that in her backstory, there's little doubt what she has to confront. How this will end is never in doubt, and is just a matter of making the path leading there crooked.

Fortunately, the first leg of the path is tremendously funny, with the first couple of songs utterly fantastic and Ayaka Miyoshi's pitch-perfect reaction to her character's predicament able to keep the laughs coming. Once she hits the road, it's a little rougher; there are fewer opportunities for big numbers, and the buddy-comedy thing that gets in the way is bumpy. I feel like I missed a scene that sets up her private investigator also being her rival, and another character's final appearance is especially random - the audience liked her, but maybe not that much, and she seems to be tidying up bits that don't really need it.

But, wow, is lead actress Miyoshi great. It's not just that she's cute as heck and can sing and dance, but she's terrific at finding the yin and yang of her character, where she can put herself above her friends' superficiality while still crushing on the same handsome executive given the chance, or finding terror in her actions feeling out of control even as she truly loves what her hypnotized brain is giving her permission to indulge in. There's another movie, perhaps, where maybe she comes to grips with the idea of being stuck like this, and the resolution doesn't completely fall on the casual whims of the hypnotist that put her in this situation (although Akira Takarada is a smooth charmer in the part).

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

As much as I appreciate the sentiment here, there's something a wee bit more ham-handed to this short than it needs to be, like writer/director Ilja Rautsi (a guy, for those of us who don't know Finnish names that well) is able to recognize the blatant sexism well enough but maybe not the more insidious bits that chip away at a woman, though that's obviously not exactly for me to say either.

There's no denying that eventual shutting bros up with a shotgun is cathartic as heck, though, or that Anna Paavilainen is ever less than a complete kick as Essi, the horror-loving lady who has been pushed far enough and knows how you blast your way out of the horror movie she's found herself in quite well, thank you. The gore is plentiful and enthusiastic, and it's undeniable that the film's heart is in the right place, which is all over the wall behind these lunatics.

Satanic Panic

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplomes de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Satanic Panic is horror comedy for people who know the genre and can poke fun without being entirely flip about it - it doesn't work if everybody involved is taking it for granted, but does when the right people are.

Indeed, it's at its best when it becomes a sort of buddy comedy between an innocent who is nevertheless nobody's fool and a girl who knows the score but is, maybe, not as corrupt as she thinks. Seeing it evolve into that is probably the movie's best surprise: Genuine friendship isn't exactly what movies like this are usually made of, but it happens almost before the viewer is aware of what's going on, and the pairing of Hayley Griffith and Jordan Ladd becomes a surprisingly solid core.

That gives the movie a lot of room for crazy, absurdist slapstick, and a whole crew of actors dive into the chance to indulge in their cultists' gleeful lack of morality. A lot are the sort of character actors one almost recognizes, seeming to have a blast pushing their personae just a bit further than usual, all the way up to Rebecca Romijn clearly having a blast suffering no fools, with a special guest appearance by Jerry O'Connell, who makes his suburban satanist the final evolution of the guy who never thought he could or should be held accountable. It's great fun and it sneaks a little bit of sting in there as well, though not enough to kill the mood.

Full review on eFilmCritic

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